We would take long walks together every Sunday afternoon, just the two of us. Through the houses, more of which sprang up in the spaces between through the years like pop-up obstacles; across the quiet racecourse, up the grassy hill in the centre (a favourite sledging spot) before choosing one of the sandy tracks on the far side back down; through windswept patches of gorse, heather and broom, past the twisted dark skeletons of elms.
We would duck under the white painted fence to cross the manicured grass again and then head off into the woods beyond, where our real walk seemed to begin, away from the dog-walkers. Through dark quiet copses and sunlit clearings we made our way, sometimes up the old hill fort. That was always my favourite walk, reserved for long bright afternoons. Sometimes we glimpsed a deer running through the woods, but usually it was just us and the bright chatter of birds. In winter we made the first prints in big drifts of smooth snow, admired the symmetry of frozen ferns or broke the ice on ponds and puddles to gasp at how thick it was.
I was thinking about these walks a lot last week as we drove through the edge of the same woods and across the heathland where the gorse shone gold in the sun against dark skies, shuttling between the house and the hospital. Other walks too: a Christmas walk through the houses in the city, the evening when we were caught out by torrential rain and came home drenched to the skin; long rambles through your native Yorkshire; hikes over the sun-baked rocks of the Mediterranean. I think that when the grief is not so raw and bright, I will remember you best striding alongside me, and perhaps you will still be at my side when we venture out once more across the fields and woods.
You are in everything I see or do. You taught me to program our first computer; to drive; to build a careful pyramid of charcoal for the barbecue; to love equally the ear-splitting carnival of a motor racing circuit and the companionable contemplation of distant galaxies on a dark still night. Your patience, kindness, compassion, humour, courage and passion have lit up my whole life. I am so proud of you. The world is a sadder, smaller place without you, though the sun somehow continues to rise. We came home to bright flares of white and purple honesty lighting up the borders; deep orange-red tulips nestling in dark red velvet wallflowers, bright green leaves unfurling on the beech; the unsentimental march of the seasons. I am glad that you stayed for the spring; I wish that you could stay for twenty more.
It was a brave fight.
Dear Dad. I love you. I miss you.